does make me rather angry.

Life The comments in this Guardian story about the status of freelancers in the benefits system do make me rather angry not least because most of them seem to have been made by people for whom it has never happened.

One of my previous employers, a few years ago, didn't have their own payroll and so requested/demanded that all of their workers/employees register as freelancers for tax purposes, even though they were being paid a wage.

Some of them already were for this and that reason, but it was a bit of a surprise all round to the rest of us. Not knowing much about anything at the time, and eager to work, I agreed.

It was a temporary position, didn't last very long and I ultimately didn't make very much on the deal other than some good friends. I was also obviously unable to request benefits for the period too. Within a couple of months the work ended and I had to go and sign on ...

... and found myself in the situation outlined, unable to claim benefits initially because of my "freelance" status and faced with welfare office that couldn't compute that I was a freelancer who'd been an employee.

It was eventually resolved, but the appeals process took months during which time I didn't have an income and couple with my working when they need me/decided to give me some work position during my "employment" built up a debt which took me years to pay off.

All of which hopefully explains my reticence to go freelance again. So now you know.

Woody Allen's Whatever Works is released in the UK.

Film Finally. Almost exactly one year after it was released in the US, Woody Allen's Whatever Works is finally reaching the UK on the 25th June.

I've phoned some favoured venues. Cornerhouse Manchester will have it for two whole weeks from the release date onwards. It's booked into FACT Liverpool but they aren't when they'll be showing it yet.

Empire Magazine (which is where I first saw the news first) gives it two-stars. Reviewer Angie Errigo calls it awful - though it's rare that I agree with her assessment of anything anyway.

Rotten Tomatoes is kinder with 73% overall.

I'm -- optimistic.

[the story so far].


Film The majesty of Mark Kermode's Sex And The City 2 review:

Just in case you want to sing along.

haul himself or the TARDIS into it

TV About a week ago - and with apologies for not catching up on this before -- Allyn Gibson was good enough to say some nice things about my Doctor Who writing and to pick up on that infamous post about where exactly the narrative arc of the current season is going. Towards the bottom of his post, he says this ...
"Though I am throwing out the idea that Moffat may push the reset button that Davies did not."
Here's something. I'm not. As I think I've mentioned at some other time (though for the life of me etc.) there was a rather good article in Doctor Who Magazine just after Moffat took over which described what his approach to the series might be, especially its internal narrative, and one of the options was to wipe out RTD's tenure. But I think he'd go further. So in tribute to Allyn's own raggedy theories, here's a theory of my own.

What will happen when the Pandorica opens?

Early synopses for the finale -- without dropping in a lot of spoilers unless you're outside the UK and haven't seen the Silurian episodes -- suggest that the time travel element of the series is going to be the "big bad", that the Pandorica really is a huge fairy tale concept that will effect the fabric of the universe or more specifically the web of time. Which is fine and some of the juxtapositions sound really, really interesting.

What if when the Pandorica opens something bigger happens and the only way that the Doctor can stop it is to haul the TARDIS into it -- he talked about doing something similar in Flesh and Stone before resorting to using the Weeping Angels. Assuming the effects are similar to when Rory was enveloped, the loss of the TARDIS to the time line would be catastrophic.

It would be as if the Doctor never travelling in time.

Most of his adventures gone, forty odd years of adventures snuffed out. Are you a spin-off writer working on a new Big Finish cd? I wouldn't bother, it probably doesn't matter. The Doctor hasn't met the Monoids yet. Assuming the human race even managed to survive long enough to take The Ark route to the stars.

The ultimate reset button.

It's not perfect. The spectre of Turn Left looms large. Does the crack and time really have the ability to paper over all of the those alien invasions, the time war, revolutions and what have you or would it simply let everything go to crap? Torchwood wasn't that good was it? Or would it simply have been a different timelord travelling the time lanes doing much the same thing. A benevolent version of The Master perhaps.

Plus The Sarah Jane Adventures has to be taken account of, and we know the Doctor is to appear in the next series of that along with Jo Grant. A universe wide reset button negates this even if the Doctor survives to exist within it -- which he has to of course because otherwise there isn't a show. I don't have another explanation for Amy not remembering the Daleks other than something on a more personal level ...

Of course a reset button can manifest itself in other ways. It could be a nu-Trek solution with the Doctor and Amy entering a different version of the Whoniverse where everything is different like the season two cyberworld. Or my favourite idea -- which hasn't surprisingly yet been done and inspired by the Last Action Hero -- in which the Doctor enters a universe in which he's the only "alien" element and which is exactly like ours.

What would the Doctor do without monsters to fight?

an actual moonrocket.

Space Cork's Catherine Ryan Howard spent a year in and around Orlando, Florida working for Walt Disney World. Her memoir of the trip, Mousetrapped, includes a chapter about her visit to the Kennedy Space Center which is everything you'd want to be -- a nostaglia tinged fact filled reportage. It's previewed/published at Keris Stainton's blog:
"I was in the presence of an actual moonrocket. After landing five Apollo crews on the lunar surface, and with the Soviets well and truly beat, Americans turned their backs on the space program and NASA’s once limitless funding all but dried up; the remaining Apollo missions were cancelled. While I was happy to see a real Saturn V at KSC, it should have been used to take men to the moon on Apollos 18 or 19. Instead, this Saturn V was helping visitors from all over the world understand the true meaning of the phrase ‘mind-boggling.’ Taking in its stats made my brain ache like it did when I tried to make sense of what was going on with Lost."
The first chapter of Mousetrapped is also available at the book's official website, and has the gossipy tone of the best pen pal you've ever had.

hypercritical of himself

Music This Village Voice piece about Woody Allen acts as a kind of prose sequel to Wild Man Blues and demonstrates that his commitment to preserving the traditional jazz sound is undimmed, even if the dark clouds of extinction hang over the genre. He also continues to be hypercritical of himself:
"The problem is, not enough feeling comes out of my music. I mean, I play my heart out and I close my eyes and hunch my shoulders and do all the external motions that great players do to pump the feeling through their horn, but I can't get a lot of feeling through it. That's been one of the sad things in my life, that I hear a real great clarinet player and they'll just play two or three notes, and those notes are so beautiful and full of feeling. And I'm killing myself and trying so hard to squeeze that note out and get the feeling into it, but it's just not there. It has to be somewhere in your chromosomes or something."
[printable version]

Richard Curtis and The Black Adder

TV Richard Curtis is interviewed in this week's Radio Times about his nu-Who episode on Saturday and he alludes to a first pilot for The Black Adder, which by a strange coincidence I happened to find on YouTube yesterday. He says of it:
"I watched some of my things before with groups of people. I remember when we did the first Blackadder, we had a little pilot, which we thought was pretty good. And I watched it with 12 friends. There was this horrible silence at the end."
And it's really not that bad. The episode is closer in tone to Blackadder II with Rowan Atkinson's cunning central performance pitched somewhere between the Bean-alike who turned up in the full first series and the sly wise-cracker from the later runs. It's the wrong Baldrick though and it lacks a proper sense of place due to the tiny sets and unclear time frame. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating first draft.

Click below to see the whole episode ....

Eyewitness: Shakespeare in the Park, New York City 2008

Matthew Carlson played the Danish Captain in this performance which starred Michael Stuhlbarg, featuring Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose as Ophelia and Sam Waterson's Polonius. On his blog, he describes one electric performance:
"The weather is always part of the performance when acting outdoors, but on one night in particular something remarkable happened. We found ourselves in a windstorm, which began slowly but became increasingly violent. At first the trees simply whispered in the wind, but as the night wore on they began to move and sway. Eventually, leaves and branches began to break from the trees and blow through the theater and across the stage. Now doing a play like Hamlet, which centers around a prince visited by the ghost of his murdered father, you can imagine that a windstorm like this might begin to take on a strangely supernatural feel. The weather began to affect the performance in subtle ways, as Michael incorporated the wind and allowed it to affect him."
Matthew also mentions that he shot Horatio at the end, which gives a whole new meaning to "Go, bid the solidiers shoot".

Double Falsehood (The Arden Shakespeare). Edited by Brean Hammond.

One of the thrilling elements of my amateur scholarship of Shakespeare is the ever present sense of discovery, which might have its nucleus in Hamlet stagecraft but reaches much, much further. The controversy surrounding the lost play, Cardenio stands large in literature academia but my eye opening first experience of it was during Michael Wood’s superlative 2003 documentary In Search of Shakespeare, in which he tasked the Royal Shakespeare Company to recreate a fragment surrounding one of the extant songs.

Two actors portraying the title character and a friend stood in a spotlight at the edge of the stage listening to Woods, Rocks & Mountaynes and at the close they looked on in fear as it magically seemed as though their tiny pocket universe had reached a premature implosion. The mystique of that moment was enough that when I later read about the “discovery” of a text for Cardenio, I was eager to find out more.

I was disappointed to discover that the heralding of this new play into the canon wasn’t cut and dry. This wasn't some new text, but the refurbished provenance of a known play, Double Falsehood. As Brian Hammond, editor of this handsomely put together printing of the play explains in his thorough introduction, scholars have argued about this old play's authorship for centuries, as to whether it's purely Shakespeare, a collaboration with John Fletcher, Fletcher with Middleton and someone else, or if indeed as has been the main assumption, due to the absence of a source text it was a forgery perpetrated by Lewis Theobald, its eighteenth-century editor.

Given these odds, there has been some criticism of Double Falsehood appearing The Arden Shakespeare range alongside Hamlet and Macbeth because of the legitimacy that confers. But with a clear awareness of that Hammond meticulously unpicks each of the arguments against this having any of Shakespeare’s verse within and though he’s careful to add a few qualifications, largely convinces us that after uncovering some new documentary evidence, Double Falsehood is indeed the Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration that was premiered at court in 1613 via a restoration adaptation through to the Theobald text we have in our hands now. Hammond himself outlines the guts of this argument in this University of Nottingham vodcast:

He offers a strong argument that Shakespeare has to have written a large proportion of the first half of the play, in which case it has as much right to be canonised, venerated as a lost text now found and given the Arden treatment as Henry VIII or Two Noble Kinsmen -- and Edward III or Sir Thomas More, both of which are to be published next year. Some academics, like the rebuttal witness Hammond's appearance on the Today programme, seem very reticent about inducting new plays into the canon which is understandable considering the addition baggage they may have in terms of rewriting and disproving existing theories about his life.

But for this layperson, the idea of a whole new play to enjoy is breathtaking even if, as Hammond is keen to stress, he’s not resurrecting gold. An adaptation of a sub-plot from Don Quixote created as reaction to the massive contemporary popularity of Cervantes and all things Spanish, even in its original form, Double Falsehood/Cardenio would have seen both authors falling back on some of their more familiar tropes of chivalry and revenge, transvestism and masquerade, though of course their inclusion is one of the reasons "we" have been able to crystallise its authorship.

As it stands, Double Falsehood is interesting but has clearly had some of the complexity knocked out of it across the years to fit the taste in later century more linear, less thematically complex storytelling. An initially grim tale of a domineering prince taking sexually violent advantage of the girl his brother is romantically interested in which spins of into a more pastoral adventure in the style of The Winter’s Tale, there are more logic breaks and inconsistencies in characterisation than an episode of Flash Forward. Plot strands begin, never to be tied up.

I’m cautious about reviewing it too closely as a piece of drama. Without an actor's interpretation and despite the staging plan in the appendixes it's near impossible to get a sense of such things as pacing and emotion. But in the current absence of that (bar fractions), simply on a poetic level there is much beauty here. Some of the descriptions of Leonora, the object of both brother’s desire, rank alongside those connected with Juliet and Rosalind and it's impossible not to take the view, confirmed by the footnotes, that a brain as complex as that behind Hamlet (which is alluded to throughout) has to have had some hand in these passages.

With that in mind, I can't help feeling some sense of melancholy that due to the egotistical rivalry between Theobald and Alexander Pope over who had best rights to Shakespeare’s legacy (described in gossipy detail throughout this volume), general snobbery to Elizabethan and Jacobean work which hasn’t previously been verified as Shakespearean and the fact that it's not until recently that textual analysis has gained the scientific rigour such that it can offer authorship suggestions based on the syntax of a line, that the play has been outside of the repertory for long enough that its mostly only been treated to amateur productions in the past half century.

Hammond’s extensive production history mentions shows based on the text as it stands, on supposed recreations of the original Cardenio scholarly and otherwise and even how a completely different play, Hamiton/Middleton’s The Second Maiden’s Tragedy has erroneously been produced under that name due to the misunderstanding of an influential academic paper. Though that’s due to be rectified by its appearance as the premiere production at the newly refurbished Royal Shakespeare Company, there now seems to be a hole in the BBC’s 80s canon series where this play should be. Perhaps if Arden's valuable perhaps even miraculous volume had been published earlier, we'd now be able to enjoy a Jonathan Miller studio production starring Graham Crowdon as the old Duke and Mary Tamm as Leonora.

Double Falsehood (The Arden Shakespeare) edited by Brean Hammond is published by Methuen Drama. £65.00 hardback, £16.99 paperback. ISBN: 978-1903436776.

everything’s renewed and revitalised.

Books Justin Richards has been a writer in and editor of the Doctor Who spin-off range of novels for some years. Here he talks honestly about the process of tearing the main story arcs and the quality of his own books:
"I think the ones that work best are those first few books where the Doctor is trapped on earth, not knowing who he really is. Especially as the character and his situation are such a contrast to the epic scale and events of The Ancestor Cell. Really what i was trying to do was to make it all rather more personal, and to get away from the mass of continuity and narrative baggage that had built up in the books over the years. It’s no one’s fault that this happens – it just does. And as soon as we ‘reset’ everything, we started building it up again! Typically, on TV, a regeneration has a similar effect – everything’s renewed and revitalised. Finding a way to do that in the novels without being able – or allowed – to regenerate the Doctor was a challenge. And in The Burning, I got to write the first ever Doctor Who story. Sort of. How great is that?!"
The Burning certainly achieved that and a lot more. I'm slightly concerned about what he means when he says that future past Doctor novels "will happen soon - though perhaps not in the way that people expect".

What we expect is two or three hundred pages with a beginning, middle and end about familiar characters. Admittedly there is the usual range issue in terms of delineating them with nu-Who books and where to put them in the book shop and how to pitch them in terms of content but these aren't insurmountable.

It's just a shame they can't at least go about reprinting the Virgin and BBC Books from the nineties and later perhaps in special editions of linking Doctor/Companion groups in chronological order, perhaps by classic season. Those old novels are about the only classic material that isn't being resurrected.

Vortigern and other hoaxes.

In the 1790s, William-Henry Ireland, the son of an antiquarian, perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes when he managed to fool many of the contemporary literary with a range of "lost" documents which he purported to be in Shakespeare's own hand. They included letters, poetry and a whole play, Vortigern, which even received a premier with John Kemble. The Smithsonian has the whole story, including a blow-by-blow account of this major theatrical event:
Vortigern was obviously not a theatrical masterpiece, regardless of who had written it. The first hint of disaster came in the third act, when a bit player—a skeptic, like Kemble—overplayed his lines for laughs. The crowd grew more restive in the final act, when Kemble as King Vortigern addressed Death with mock solemnity:

O! then thou dost ope wide thy hideous jaws,
And with rude laughter, and fantastic tricks,
Thou clapp’st thy rattling fingers to thy sides;
And when this solemn mockery is ended—

The last line he intoned in a ghoulish, drawn-out voice, which provoked several minutes of laughter and whistling. Kemble repeated the line—leaving no doubt as to what mockery he was referring to—and the crowd erupted again. The performance might have ended there, but Kemble stepped forward to ask the audience to permit the show to go on.
The full text of the play with a preface by Ireland's father, who was still convinced of its authenticity years after his son had confessed, is available elsewhere on-line.

Review: The Pacific. Episodes three to ten.

TV One of my abiding memories of The Pacific (which just completed its run on Sky Movies HD) will be a shot from episode five which deals with the storming of the beach at Peleliu. For just a fraction of a second, a severed arm is seen flying through the air in the middle distance from a source unknown, as yet again one of the many messy battles starts to purposefully resemble a Picasso or Bacon portrait rather than a coherent action sequence.

Like similar orphaned limbs throughout the series, which have been thrown about by the exemplary production designers or digital effects animators to demonstrate yet another aspect of the horror of war, the fictional source is unknown. In real theatre of battle they’d still become a vital way in which the identity of a dead marine, blasted to pieces, might be discovered.

Except as we learn throughout the back eight episodes (I've previewed the first two previously) the rest of this absolutely superb series is as much about the search for identity in the living as well, about how these marines cope with the transformation that is wrought upon them in the aftermath of Guadalcanal and then in the hellish conditions of Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Still scarred by these skirmishes the 1st Marine Division take their leave in Australia, which is a well earned breather for the viewer too. The pacing of the series is such so that grim war stories aren’t piled on top of one another. Branded a hero, Basilone is shipped home to sell war bonds throughout the country (a thread which will continue through the next few episodes to contrast with the hell in the pacific) as Leckie enters focus. His war story, as far as the series portrays, is one of much waiting, with bursts of action before being shipped home.

Episode three sees him fall for a local girl in Melbourne, becoming part of the family. It’s an episode which allows us, in fairly broad strokes, to see the effect the war is having on cultures outside of the war zones. Over lunch, the father reads out the names of dead sons from the newspaper, underscoring the loss of their Greek heritage. As Leckie becomes more important to the family so his girlfriend becomes less inclined to marrying him – she doesn’t believe he’ll live and doesn’t want to inflict another tragedy on her loved ones.

Leckie discovers, and this is achingly etched in actor James Badge Dale face, that once he put on the uniform he was marked for death. The effects of this revelation are played out in the next episode, were after the division is stationed at Cape Gloucester, he’s slowly stripped of his dignity, demoted to the kitchen for standing up to his commanding officer, contracts a urinary disease and sent to a mental hospital. Though his fellow marines are unusually sympathetic, he’s unable to even countenance their existence.

Again he becomes an avatar for the audience in a part of the war the audience rarely sees, the pure psychological effects, as we see men who fought at Guadalcanal and broken by the experience locked away (neatly foreshadowing later episodes when in the midst of battle that isn’t possible). Leckie discovers that death won’t necessarily become him, but as he chooses to return to the regiment early we’re left to wonder if that choice makes him crazier than they are.

Meanwhile in episode four, Eugene Sledge leaves basic training. Sledge’s journey is the strongest as we see the young man as I predicted previously experiencing “the gap between the dream of fighting for one’s country and the horrific reality”. The fresh faced youngster dealing with petty injustices of the gremlin-like Snafu and his other brigade colleagues is initially shown (in a beautifully poised key scene) as having great religious fortitude.

In the following episode the newly nicknamed Sledgehammer clutches his bible unable to comprehend Lackie’s Dawkins-like explanation for why he doesn’t believe in God, which is, to paraphrase, if God created everything why does he sadistically allow war? There’s a subliminal religious undercurrent to the whole series though as Sledge’s faith is shaken it has to be said the series sides more with Lackie’s point of view.

That’s no more obvious in the next battle set piece, that storming of the beach at Pelilu, which in employing the same increased shutter speed technique and high speed cutting, directly references the Omaha landings from Saving Private Ryan underscoring that though the geographic locations were diverse the experiences for soldiers on the ground were just as appalling.

We begin to understand why Sledge’s colleagues are so harsh on him – like their Japanese opponents they subliminally have to dehumanise their social group so that their death means less, so that the rapid mortality of those they’re fighting with doesn’t stop them being able to carry out their orders, divesting themselves of their individuality.

Which is the change Sledge undergoes. Firstly his bible becomes little more than a place to keep a tally of the days this brigade has spent in action. Then he takes up smoking after some initial reticence. He even becomes a bully. Finally, he loses his ability to see his opponents as human beings, even when they’ve become prisoners of war, attempting to remove the gold teeth of the fallen for sale on the black market.

It’s at this instant we realise why the series has, with the exception of a few brief shots of behind enemy lines and a moment when Lackie regards the severed hand of a Japanese soldier, offered a one-dimensional view of the war. This is the experience of Sledge and soldiers just like him. It makes killing easier too. And so the process of war continues.

Episode six shows the group’s desperation for water creating twin reasons for fighting to take the airport at Pelilu, for territory but more importantly to survive. As with many of the incidental manoeuvres, the destruction of a Japanese tank is expertly directed as we see heroism born out of anxiety, hundreds of men running directly into gunfire often unable to see just feet in front of them as there vision is blocked by blood and tears.

The strategies developed at headquarters are modified from moment to moment to fit the present circumstances (not too much though – now and then action halts because an officer requires new order on one occasion at the cost of their own life). The actors all went to boot camp in the jungles of Australia and it pays dividends in aiding their ability to give an authentic impression of the difficult choices they’re being asked to make, all too easily scrutinised and criticised by academics and others in retrospect.

The production design becomes more artificial as the series continues, as the scenery changes gradually from verdant green forest to barren dust bowls to unapproachable mud fields. Even if this is a budgetary limitation, it has the added consequence that when Sledge and the 5th Marines reach Peleliu's Bloody Nose Ridge, its as though their whole world has been reduced to some dusty ground from which they’ll never escape with the unreal quality of a nightmare.

When, in one of the series’ most disturbing scenes, Sledge seeks the origin of a plopping noise and finds Snafu tossing stones into the sodden open cranium of a dead Japanese soldier like tossing cards into a hat, the two realities, sub-conscious and otherwise have finally intermingled. It’s in that moment Sledge divests himself of humanity to become a killing machine and we almost can’t blame him given the grotesque stimulus that have bashed his senses for the many weeks he’s spent outside of civilisation.

At which point the series shifts the spotlight again and completes the story of John Basilone, and his bewildered inability to square the reaction of his fellow Americans to his bravery with the reality of what he experienced. Time and again the series portrays moments of gallantry as impressive if not more so than his, but Basilone seems to have been plucked for veneration almost at random, implicit in actor Jon Seda’s demeanour when he’s told about the Medal of Honor.

His story up until this point is much the same as that of the soldiers portrayed in Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers, shipped in luxury across the country to sell war-bonds as their survivor-guilt sweats through their pores along with the residue of alcohol they turn to, the original events mythologised and rewritten to a point of meaninglessness, as though they happened to someone else. At one point, he even finds himself reading a scripted version of his own experience over the radio.

Your reaction to this episode will be different depending upon your knowledge of the history which I’m about to spoil so I’d skip the next three paragraphs if you’re yet to watch the series and don’t know Basilone’s fate. For much of its emotional duration it’s the story of man who’s caught between survival, public persona and duty but the result of his actions are some of the most emotionally wrenching moments the series has to offer. He's simply not the kind of person who can deal with having ships and buildings named after him.

In asking to train “fresh meat” (as enlistees were described in Starship Troopers) he’s perhaps hoping that he’ll be able to prepare them better than he was when he first entered the danger zone and fairly quickly he shifts from being a grunt to SargeAnt, despite not being certain of his abilities. When camp cook Riggi enters his life, her love for the forces and his love for her saps away his uncertainly and sends him on the road from supposed hero to legend.

Personally, I viewed this with admiration and surprise and not without some doubt as to Basilone’s motives. In retrospect, knowing that he would ultimately die in battle, the wedding night scenes aren’t just tinged with the sadness of a perfect moment snatched during wartime, they’re a portent of certain doom. Though in reality he lived for seven more months, Riggi gives him a look that suggests it’ll be for the last time and she wants to remember the moment.

I would imagine that knowledgeable viewers would note the inevitability of his demise as surely as if he’d deliberately stepped out into a bullet as he runs himself ragged amid Iwo Jima not living long enough to sense the flag being raised. Not knowing about his death, I audibly gasped as the bullets hit because I’d genuinely believed that he would be allowed to prove his worth to himself in battle and live to tell the tale.

The average viewer watching week to week will certainly have a different experience with the series than me. Sky were good enough to send this episodes for review and I watched them back to back over a few days (just as many you will do once the box set is released) which by this point, despite the pauses underscored to me that some series are designed to be watched on a weekly basis if only so that the viewer can calm down.

Unless you have a strong constitution, I would recommend you take a break at this point, because after the sands of Iwo Jima, we’re immediately flung back into Sledge’s harrowing story as the 1st Marine Division land at Okinawa and the moments when the morality of the soldiers finally comes into question as their ability to distinguish between civilians and enemy combatants. Despite what is ultimately a hopeful message, the transition is a big ask.

Thematically redolent of other more recent war zones, it’s also the story of Sledge’s psychological redemption. When he and Snafu (who by now has become a firm friend) stand apparently ready to murder a baby, because of the bleakness of the everything else in the series, not least those moments when soldiers have ended the lives of their fellows for the good of the regiment, for a few tense moments we’re convinced they’re going to do it and indeed it takes the intervention of another to snaps them back into focus.

But it requires an act of real humanity, clutching the body of a dying mother as the life saps out of her, before his real identity begins to return and he’s presented as the more enlightened figure he began as, unable to shoot an unarmed soldier. He’s been changed by war – he still smokes – but with a pipe which marks him out as an individual again. Snafu sharing a sunny outcrop Sledge in the closing moments, in contrast seems roughly the same, his attitude to generally keeping his fellow fighters at arms length having been confirmed when one such figure randomly lost their life.

Much of the series is played out in close-up. Partly that’s a result of the medium, its somewhat budgetary, but it also means that like these soldiers we’re in a constant state of surprise, information visual as well as tactical is a precious commodity. We discover a well liked commanding officers has died when his stretcher is carried into shot so that we empathise with the reaction of his troops. When Enola Gay goes about its business, its destructive power is reduced to just few words of reported speech miles away in the war zone at the close of episode nine, abstract and lacking emotion weight in comparison to the slaughter which has just been witnessed.

Other war stories may have (and have) ended there. The Pacific, a series which concerns itself with the interior of the characters follows the “boys” home. Neither Lackie or Sledge are quite able to comprehend their change in lifestyle however gradual it is (the war may be over but their tours of duty continue into the following year). When Lackie returns to his previous employer, the newspaper, to demand his job back he’s full of Carry Grant’s His Girl Friday bravado though later we can see that he’s pretending to be his old self, the cracks developing when faced with the teenage object of his desire, who thankfully is understanding of his state.

Sledge is similarly numb with guilt, perhaps because, unlike his brother and friends, because of his initially high moral code he lost the most. When he says he’ll never wear a uniform again, he means it. He can’t comprehend even using it to attract women let alone to impress the induction clerk of a Polytechnic. Its in the final moments of the episode that Joe Mazzello’s exemplary performance comes full circle as, in the blaze of a different sun, his character finally seems at rest.

Having seen a fair amount of everything including war films, I’ve become rather cynical so my barometer of quality is the depth of my emotion. But the poise with which the Basilone story is unexpectedly resolved with Riggi visiting his parents to return his medal of honour is breathtaking, the wariness, signalled by his brother continuously asking her if she’d like something, and accentuated by the blackness of the house (in comparison to the cosiness of previous dinner table scenes) evaporating as she produces the presentation box and they’re united in grief. Oh how I cried.

The series closes with a final set of caption cards in which the actors faces are replaced with the real marines and short biographical information revealing what happened to them in later decades. As well as emphasising the detailed research of the casting directors in finding actors who time and again bear an uncanny resemblance to their real life counterparts, we’re also reminded that though many of them have died since the second world war, they all, in the main, went on to have long, full lives.

They didn’t die then and mores to the point some of them still live on, as we discover that the veterans who’ve been speaking of their experiences in short documentary prologues at the top of each episode have been portrayed in these very episodes. All too often in war films, even in these kinds of drama documentaries, the audience is divorced from the action somehow, even with the best of performers. Seeing the reality in eyes of the real veterans, some of whom have been rendered speechless during their interview when they attempt to describe what they’ve seen, makes The Pacific all the more impressive because it so vividly speaks for them.
Elsewhere I've reviewed last night's Doctor Who. I was so proud of the title that I've kept it an entire week until it actually made sense in relation to the episode. Which is about as committed as I get to anything these days.

Cold Blood.

TV Companion deaths on the television version of Doctor Who are comparatively rare. Adric and Katarina is about the shape of it, and probably Sara Kingdom. In the spin-off Whoniverse it’s a veritable bloodbath, from C’rizz through to Roz Forrester with a whole multi-novel plot arc dedicated to finishing off some television’s plus ones (or twos) in ambiguous circumstances, including Sarah Jane Smith. They get dropped in a parallel universe, walk from the TARDIS or have their memory wiped and there’s collateral damage outside of the Doctor’s immediate circle but the death of a Tardis traveller in a family show on Saturday night BBC One? That’s a very thick chalk line to cross.

Unlike the viewers who immediately ran to twitter and made Rory’s name a trending topic for the next hour right into Eurovision and on the night that Dennis Hopper died, I wasn’t emotional drawn by the death, certainly not in the same way as the last time a main character died in the Whoniverse (#saveiantojones? Um, no.) Partly it was the shock that Moffat had done the one thing Russell T Davies said he could never do (cf, Donna Noble) but mostly its because the writing and direction seemed to want to us to ponder the implications of the death rather than feel it on a gut level.

Most of the scene was played from the Doctor’s point of view. From the moment Amy desperately asked him to do something to save her already gone fiancĂ©’s life, we were given a sea of reaction shots of the timelord’s impotent face, and the ensuing action was about how he was going to get Amy into the Tardis and tellingly when he finally managed to bring himself to simply grab her by the torso and carry her through the threshold, instead of a close-up of her crying desperately at the door as the machine took off, we were right up on the Doctor blankly working the controls.

Only as the two worked to try to and keep Rory’s memory alive did the story become a joint one again but the implication throughout was still that the nurse’s death wasn’t simply a random fatality but an important part of the ongoing storyline and we were left to ruminate on the narrative consequences, for the rest of the series and beyond. If Rory didn’t exist, what was Amy’s choice? How did she escape Francesco, let alone get into the non-vampire school in the first place? What about all of the people he helped save in his day job?

The implication is – evidenced by the irksome reappearance of future Amy, alone on the hill this time – that the web of time has knitted itself back into place to resolve any of these inconsistencies. The crack, in wiping someone from existence, goes in with the Dettol equivalent of quantum physics to sterilise the wound and give it some stitches, but unlike the reapers in Father’s Day the process also removes them from the memory. Except, presumably because he’s a timelord, the Doctor remembers. As does BBC Books who have given Rory extra adventures in the next three releases in the range.

Rory’s death was slotted in at the close of what up until then had been a fairly stolidly traditional Doctor Who story which wasn’t especially bad and like last week offered moments of nostalgia but didn’t quite sing, giving the impression that Moffat and Chibnall’s motive was to put us into a false state of security (even if Arthur Darvill’s non-appearance in the previews of upcoming episode in Doctor Who Magazine gave the impression of something occurring) before smacking us around the head with Rory’s old lady battering stick: “You’re watching nu-Who, stupid.”

Unlike last week’s episode which could be viewed with all the comfort of a classic series dvd release bar the annoying unskippable caption, easter egg of a continuity announcement and randomly edited documentary about dinosaurs, this was about as entertaining as one of those generic Star Trek: Voyager episodes in which Janeway’s negotiations towards an alien race are going well until Seven of Nine goes borg and shoots one of them in the face (before attempting to assimilate the corpse). With a sub-plot in which Harry Kim tries to teach the EMH about the joys of flower arranging.

I was better disposed to The Hungry Earth because it seemed like a genuine attempt to tackle classic Who in much the same way that Todd Hayne’s worshipped Douglas Sirk in Far From Heaven or Steven Soderbergh riffed off Michael Curtiz and old Hollwood during The Good German. Except both those films and other similar experiments then attempted to do something interesting, either by introducing greater thematic weight or simply content that would not have been permissible in the earlier form and that seemed to be way things were heading in the, as it turned out, rather disingenuous NEXT TIME trailer with all the talk of “fixed points” and the implication that Rory would be going Jack Bauer on prisoner Alaya.

Unfortunately Cold Blood simply continued to be a rough remake of Doctor Who and the Silurians which is fine, except television has moved on and our expectations have changed and though there will be a large section of the meagre audience that won’t have seen Malcolm Hulke’s classic, there has to be more to it, especially in a season with all the narrative simplicity of the Gordian Knot. The picture book nature of The Beast Below worked for me because despite its unsophisticated structure, it still pinioned on big emotional character beats for the regulars. It’s funny how in this concluding episode, when the moral questions are passed to the incidental elements of humanity, it’s far less potent.

Partly that was to do with execution. Neither of the sub-plots, the negotiations for humanity or the protection (or not) of Alaya were presented from Amy or Rory’s point of view. There was no conflict here. Amy was slightly reticent, but we caught little of the responsibility which had been placed on her shoulders and the point of agreement with the Silurians was treated with all the excitement of a corporate brainstorming session in a firm of accountants -- though admittedly it was interesting see that in this televised debate, Meera Syal’s Nasreen was the one to present the case against immigration with Stephen Moore’s amenable Eldane offering a list of benefits.

Additionally, because Rory wasn’t sitting on top of their prisoner for the duration, he just became one of the humans rather than a regular. He should have been in there, trying but failing to defend their captive from Ambrose, who by this point had simply become an example of the human waste that inhabited the shuttle bus in Midnight. I know I’m drifting into writing about what wasn’t there instead of what was, which is a dirty habit, but Chibnall’s approach to scripting in Cold Blood took a retrograde step backwards to the first series of Torchwood when it was usually impossible to consistently see the interior of a character unless they were having something inserted into them.

My hunch is that like The Hungry Earth, Cold Blood overran and whilst the structure and expositional point of most scenes survived, the local colour is still sitting on a server connected to the Avid editing suite, despite the longer timeslot it was gifted. Syal’s participation seemed truncated and until the very end and the burst of emotion, Amy was largely reduced to a default wisecrack setting. Moore’s voiceover, however welcome to those of us who remember his audiobook version of Hitchhikers, and however epic its motives in suggesting “big history happening right now!” sounded like something imported to paper over some narrative cracks. No not those kinds of cracks.

And yet, and yet, despite these reservation, it wasn’t horrible, it’s was still watchable. Mostly that was down to Matt Smith who is a god, basically, someone managing to collect all of our childhood memories of what the Doctor was like with those pesky expectation built up over the past five years. He oscillates between wimpy, genial and commanding, Pertwee’s indispensable moments of charm, stretched out across an entire performance. When he said to Ambrose that she wasn’t the best humanity had to offer, I felt like he was disappointed with me too.

Anyone who suggests that he’s still no David Tennant should be made to sit down at loud-hailer shaped gun thing-point in front of the closing moments of this episode in which a mixture of guilt and bewilderment wash over him but unable to really show it in front of a companion who’s entirely unaware of the source and probably wouldn’t believe him anyway. There was some good support too from Robert Pugh as the stoic Tony and Nia Roberts who at least sought to turn her character into something approaching a real, if flawed human being. Richard Hope was similarly effective as Malohkeh, initially giving the impression of being a reptilian Mengele but turned out to be a good sort really. Despite the torture.

If only these performances weren’t being slightly undermined throughout with niggles like the reappearance of a hardly redressed Platform One from The End of the World (Cardiff’s The Chapel of Peace) and the CG explosion of the drill which was less convincing than a similar interpolated detonation on The Time Warrior dvd which was probably produced on a fraction of the budget. I was also finally drawn to admit that the rather generic make-up for this genus of Silurians simply lacked the imagination of the originals -- and omitting the third eye was vandalism basically. Why bother making the connection at all etc. etc.

Will Rory stay dead? Well, if Adric can be resurrected for an audio, it could be that when the Pandorica opens, the Doctor sacrifices the TARDIS to save him and put time back together. Which would be about right because I’m developing the opinion that the cracks are actually lesions created by the time machine, the Doctor’s travels having finally begun to create holes in space-time and that the cracks appear when he does something to change the natural order of events. When he said in The Beast Below that they shouldn’t become involved, he was right in every respect and that despite his decades long protestations to the contrary, he knows less about what he’s doing than Rose in Father’s Day.

Next Week: We hopefully get the Richard Curtis who wrote The Girl in the Café, rather than the hack who turned out Love Actually.